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In Fury Born: Chapter Two

       Last updated: Thursday, November 24, 2005 22:41 EST



    "So, you're our new warm body, are you?"

    Sergeant Major Winfield managed, Alicia noticed, to restrain the wild spasm of delight he must have experienced at her arrival. He tipped back in his comfortable chair, contemplating her across his desk in the armory barracks the Gyangtse militia had made available to the 1st/517th's reconnaissance battalion's command section, and shook his head with a galaxy-weary air. She wasn't certain whether or not his question had been purely rhetorical. Under the circumstances, it was probably better to assume that it hadn't been, she decided.

    "Yes, Sergeant Major," she replied.

    "And straight from Mackenzie," he sighed, head shaking harder. "We ask for nineteen experienced replacements, and we get . . . you. There is only one of you, isn't there, Private?"

    "Yes, Sergeant Major," she repeated.

    "Well, at least we won't have to break in more of you, then," Winfield said with the air of a man trying desperately to look on the bright side. This time, Alicia said nothing, simply standing in front of his desk, hands clasped behind her in a regulation parade rest. Somehow, this arrival interview wasn't going quite as well as she'd hoped.

    Winfield regarded her for several more seconds, then allowed his chair to come upright.

    "I presume that you noticed Sergeant Hirshfield on your way through to my office?"

    "Yes, Sergeant Major."

    "Good. In that case," Winfield raised his right hand and made a shooing motion towards the office door, "trot back out there and tell him you're assigned to Lieutenant Kuramochi's platoon."

    "Yes, Sergeant Major."

    "Dismissed, Private DeVries."

    "Yes, Sergeant Major!"

    Alicia came to attention, saluted crisply, waited for Winfield's somewhat less crisp response, then turned and marched briskly out of his office. As she closed the door behind her, she wondered if she'd ever be allowed to use more than a three-word vocabulary in Winfield's presence.

    Staff Sergeant Hirshfield looked up with a faint smile as Winfield's door clicked ever so carefully shut. The staff sergeant was a wiry fellow with dark hair, and he wore a neural link headset.

    "Welcome to the Battalion, DeVries," he said. "Did the Sergeant Major extend the approved Recon welcome?"

    "I believe the Sergeant Major may have been somewhat . . . underwhelmed by my arrival, Sergeant," Alicia said carefully.

    "Sar'Major Winfield is always 'underwhelmed' by new arrivals," Hirshfield told her with a faint twinkle. "Mind you, his disposition really is almost as cranky as he'd like you to believe. That's why he has me. I'm the little ray of sunshine that brightens up the day of everyone he rains on."

    "I was given to understand," Alicia said, emboldened by Hirshfield's small smile, "that he'd hoped for someone with more experience."

    "He always does." Hirshfield shrugged. "No offense, DeVries, but in the jobs they hand us, Recon isn't usually considered a slot for newbies. Not to mention the fact that we're always shorthanded, and right this minute, with things heating up here in Gyangtse with the runup to the referendum, we're feeling it a bit more than usual. So even if he gives you a hard time, I'm sure he's really glad to see you. After all, even a brand new Mackenzie larva is better than nothing," he added, somewhat spoiling the reassurance he might or might not have been attempting to project, in Alicia's opinion.

    "Thank you, Sergeant," she said. "Ah, he told me to tell you that I'm supposed to be assigned to Lieutenant Kuramochi's platoon."

    "Figured that." Hirshfield nodded. "The Lieutenant's nine people short. I imagine you'll go to Third Squad—that's Sergeant Metternich's squad. It's shortest right now, and Metternich's the senior squad leader. He's pretty good about bringing the babies along, too. No offense."

    "None taken, Sergeant," Alicia replied, not entirely honestly.

    "Good." Hirshfield's eye gleamed with a certain gentle malice. Then he spoke into the boom mike attached to his headset. "Central, Metternich." He waited perhaps half a heartbeat, then spoke again, smiling up at Alicia. "Abe, got one of your new people here. You wanna come by the office and pick her up, or should I just give her a map?"

    He listened to his earbug, then chuckled.

    "All right. I'll tell her. Clear."

    "Sergeant Metternich is sending someone to fetch you," he told Alicia, and pointed at the utilitarian chairs against the wall opposite his desk. "Park your fanny in one of those until whoever it is gets here."

    "Yes, Sergeant," Alicia said obediently, and parked her fanny in one of the aforesaid chairs.



    "Yo, Sarge. You got somebody for me?"

    Alicia looked up as the short, almost squat PFC poked his head in through Hirshfield's office door. The newcomer was even darker than Hirshfield, with broad shoulders, heavy with muscle, and a thatch of unruly black hair.

    "Medrano!" Hirshfield beamed. "If it isn't my favorite Marine! And I do, indeed, have somebody for you. Right there."

    He pointed, and Private Medrano turned his head in Alicia's direction. He looked at her for a moment, then looked back at Hirshfield.

    "Golly gee, thanks," he said. "Did you tell Abe what you had for him?"

    "And spoil the surprise?" Hirshfield arched his eyebrows.

    "Thought not," Medrano said, and shook his head. Then he looked back at Alicia and jerked a thumb over his shoulder. "Come on, Larva."

    He pulled his head out of the office and headed back the way he'd come without even looking to see if Alicia was following him. Which she was, of course, if not precisely cheerfully. Somehow, she reflected as Medrano led her briskly out of the office block, this day didn't seem to be going exactly the way she'd hoped it would.

    "Where's your gear, Larva?" he asked without turning his head.

    "They're holding it for me at the pad," she replied.

    "Guess we'd better head over there and collect it, then," he said, then turned left and headed down one of the walkways.

    His greater familiarity with the local geography quickly made itself apparent. Alicia had followed the map the arrivals sergeant had loaded into her personal com to find her way across Gyangtse's capital city of Zhikotse to Sergeant Major Winfield's office in the planetary militia barracks the battalion has taken over. The path Medrano picked to get them back to the field and her arrival shuttle pad was far more winding and complicated, making much more use of twist y back alleys rather than following the newer, wider thoroughfares. It was also much shorter, and they got back to the capital's smallish spaceport in little more than half the time it had taken her to get to Winfield's office from the pad.

    "Fetch," Medrano said dryly, parking himself comfortably in one of the chairs provided in the baggage-handling section. He pointed at the single manned window, then leaned back in the chair and crossed his ankles.

    Alicia glanced at him, then crossed to the window and the local civilian standing behind it. On most planets, baggage claim would have been handled by an AI, or at least a self-serve computerized system. But she'd already realized that Gyangtse's poverty was pronounced, at least by the Empire's generally affluent standards.

    "What can I do for you?" the short, wiry (like most Gyangtsese she'd so far seen) civilian inquired genially.

    "I need to collect my gear," she told him, sliding the electronic claim ticket across the counter to him. "I came in on Telford Williams."

    "No, really?" The Gyangtsese grinned at her, and she felt herself color ever so slightly. Of course he'd known she had to have come in aboard the Williams. The transport was undoubtedly the only ship to have made Gyangtse orbit in the last several days. But although the man was obviously amused, he didn't make a big thing out of it as he accepted the claim tag and slotted it into his terminal.

    "DeVries, Alicia, right?" he asked as the data came up.

    "That's me," she confirmed.

    "Okay." He tapped something into his keypad, then nodded. "Bay Eleven," he said, pointing at the numbered baggage bays against the rear wall. "It'll be up in a couple of minutes."

    "Thank you," she said, and he nodded at her again.

    "You're welcome," he said. "And, by the way, welcome to Gyangtse, too."

    "Thanks." She nodded back, and headed over to the indicated baggage bay. Her baggage arrived almost as promptly as the clerk had suggested it would, and she dragged her foot locker clear and checked its security telltales to be sure it hadn't been tampered with. Then she hauled out the pair of duffel bags which went with it and checked them, as well. She piled the bags on top of the locker, pulled the web strap taut across them, then switched on the foot locker's internal counter-grav unit. It rose obediently, and she gave it a push to make sure she had its mass distributed evenly. It bobbed gently, but stayed on an even keel, and she nodded in satisfaction.

    She activated the tractor leash, tethering the locker to the small unit on her belt, and turned back to Medrano. The locker and duffel bags floated obediently across the floor, staying precisely the regulation meter and a half behind her.

    "Everything?" the older private asked, coming to his feet.

    "Everything," she confirmed. He glanced at the baggage critically, but seemed unable to find anything to pick apart.

    "Then let's grab some transport," he said, and she followed him out of the pad waiting area.

    Medrano commandeered one of the field's limited number of jitneys and punched destination coordinates into the onboard computer while Alicia loaded her baggage into the cargo compartment. She closed the compartment door and climbed in beside him at his brusque gesture, and the jitney hummed rapidly away.

    Alicia glanced sidelong at Medrano's profile. She badly wanted to ask questions, but everyone she'd met so far today seemed far too interested in depressing the newbie's pretensions for her to offer him the opportunity to do some more of it. So she switched her eyes back to look straight ahead through the jitney's windscreen, possessing her soul in patience.

    Medrano leaned back without speaking for a minute or so, then smiled ever so slightly.

    "It's all right, Larva," he said.

    "I beg your pardon?" She looked at him a bit warily, and he chuckled.

    "Oh, you've still got a long way to go before you're a member of the lodge, Larva," he told her cheerfully. "And all us growed up wasps're gonna make your life hell before we let you forget it, too. But there's just the two of us right now, and I know you've got questions. So go ahead. It's all right."

    "All right," she said. "I'll bite. Staff Sergeant Hirshfield said something about things heating up here in Gyangtse. What's going on?"

    "That'd be good to know, wouldn't it?" Medrano's grin turned crooked. "The Lieutenant can answer that one better than I can, but the bottom line is that this whole sector used to be League systems. Which means we've usually got someone making trouble and generally showing his ass, and half the time they seem to think they can actually kick the 'Empies' back off their planets. It's not gonna happen, of course. But the local idiots manage to forget that from time to time, and it looks to me like that's what's getting ready to happen here."

    "There's actually some sort of underground cooking away?" She was unable to keep the surprise totally out of her tone, and he chuckled again, more harshly.

    "Larva, there's always 'an underground' someplace like this. It's usually fairly small, sort of a holding pattern for the cream-of-the-crop loonies, but it's always there. Most times, the rest of the locals are happy enough to have us around that they make the loonies' lives hard. But sometimes, like now, that's not so much the case."

    "Why not?"

    "Who the hell knows?" Medrano shrugged. "I mean, I guess the Lieutenant does. She's pretty sharp . . . for an officer. But the bottom line is that Gyangtse's right in the middle of moving from Crown World to Incorporated status. Mostly, folks seem to think that's a good idea when it happens; this time, it looks a little shakier. Dunno why—maybe it's the economy, because that's not so great. Or maybe the Gyangtsese are just dumber'n than rocks or just don't like the Governor. Or maybe it's the Lizards poking around." He shrugged again. "Whatever. The point is, Larva, that we've got exactly one battalion on the planet, there's these GLF yahoos announcing how opposed they are to 'closer relations' with the Empire—like they had a choice—and the locals who'd usually be sending us quiet little messages about the bad boys are keeping their mouths shut at the moment."


    Alicia considered what Medrano had said. The older Marine's apparently casual attitude and manner of speaking had fooled her—initially and briefly—into underestimating his intellect. That hadn't lasted long, though, and even if it had tried to, what he'd just said would have knocked it on the head, because it made sense out of a lot of things she'd noticed without really recognizing.

    The Terran Empire had grown out of the ruins of the old Terran Federation, following the League Wars and the Human-Rish Wars which had come after them. The huge, physically powerful Rishathan matriarchs weren't actually "lizards," of course, although the slang term for them was probably inevitable, given their looming, saurian appearance. But if they weren't lizards, they weren't exactly the best neighbors in the galactic vicinity, either. More militant even than humans (which, Alicia was prepared to admit, took some doing), they had not reacted well to mankind's intrusion into their interstellar backyard in 2340. Their reaction had gone downhill steadily from there, especially after their analysts realized just how much more productive human economies were . . . and how much of a technological edge humanity possessed. The fact that humans were far more fertile and liked lower-density populations, which produced a more enthusiastic and rapid rate of exploration and colonization, only made the Rishatha even less happy to see them.

    Which explained why the Rishathan Sphere's diplomacy had played upon the lingering tensions between the rival Terran League and Terran Federation with such skill and persistence. It had taken them a century of careful work, but in the end, they'd managed to produce the League Wars, which had lasted from 2450 until 2510, and killed more human beings than the combined military and civilian death tolls of every other war in the recorded history of the human race put together.

    Those sixty years of vicious, deadly warfare had turned the Federation into the Terran Empire, under Emperor Terrence I of the House of Murphy. They had also led to the League's utter military and economic exhaustion . . . at which point its Rishathan "friends and allies" had launched the First Human-Rish War, a devastating assault into its rear areas. Their victim had been taken totally by surprise, and in barely eight years, the Sphere had conquered virtually the entire League.

    Unfortunately for the Rishatha, whose plans had succeeded up to that point with a perfection which would have turned Machiavelli green with envy, the Terran Empire had proved a much tougher proposition. Especially because the time the Sphere was forced to spend digesting its territorial conquests in the League following HRW-I gave Terrence I time to put his own house in order and reorganize, rebuild, and expand his navy.

    The Second Human-Rish War had lasted fourteen years, not eight. And despite its war weariness and the political chaos which the six decades of the League Wars had produced, the Empire had been solidly united behind its charismatic new Emperor. Besides, by that time humanity had figured out who was really responsible for those sixty horrendous years of death and destruction. By the end of HRW-II, the Empire had taken two-thirds of the old League's star systems away from the Rishatha and driven the Sphere to the brink of total military defeat. Under the Treaty of Leviathan, which had formally ended the war, the Rishathan Sphere had been required to return to its pre-HRW-I borders, and the remaining third of the old League which had not already been incorporated into the Empire had found itself at least nominally independent—the so-called "Rogue Worlds" which served as a buffer zone between the two interstellar great powers and belonged to neither.

    But those sixty years of human-versus-human warfare, followed by the "liberation" (or forcible occupation, depending upon one's perspective) of so many League star systems by the imperial armed forces, had left the Empire a festering legacy of resentment. Even now, four hundred years later, Alicia knew, that resentment provided at least two thirds of the Marines' and Fleet's headaches. All too many of the old League worlds were still Crown Worlds, directly administered by Ministry of Out-Worlds governors appointed from off-world by the Empire, despite having population levels high enough to qualify them for Incorporated status. But making that move from a Crown-administered imperial protectorate to full membership, with senatorial representation, was always a delicate process. Especially in a case like Gyangtse, where the planet's original association with the Empire hadn't exactly been voluntary.

    "This GLF you mentioned—that stands for what? Gyangtse Liberation Front, or something like that?" she asked after a moment, and Medrano glanced at her.

    "You got it, Larva."

    "And it's opposed to Incorporation?"

    Medrano nodded, and Alicia made a face. Of course it was. And, from the name, it was probably doing everything it could to hamstring the local planetary debate on whether or not to seek Incorporated status. Some ex-League worlds, she knew, had voted as many as twenty or even thirty times before their citizens finally decided to forget the past. Or, at least, to forget it sufficiently to become willing subjects of the Emperor.

    "Have there been any actual incidents?" she asked, and Medrano grunted.

    "More than a couple," he acknowledged, just a bit grimly.

    "What kind?" she asked, frowning thoughtfully. Medrano raised an eyebrow, and she shrugged. "I mean, have they been more of the 'we want to make ourselves enough of a pain that you'll negotiate with us and give us what we want so we'll go away' sort, or of the 'we're dangerous enough nuts that we actually think we can kill enough of you so that you'll go away' sort?"

    "That's the big question, isn't it, Larva?" Medrano replied, but there was an odd light in his eye. As if Alicia's question—or the insight behind it, perhaps—had surprised him. "Nobody much likes the first kind of loony, but it's the second kind that fills body bags. And right this minute, I don't have the faintest idea which variety we're looking at here."

    "I see." Alicia's frown deepened, more pensive than ever, and she leaned back in the jitney's seat.

    Medrano glanced at her again and half-opened his mouth, then closed it again, his own expression thoughtful, as the self-possessed larva at his side digested what he'd just told her. It wasn't the response he'd expected out of someone that young, that fresh out of Camp Mackenzie. Maybe this kid really did have something going for her?

    Well, Leocadio Medrano thought dryly, I guess we'll just have to see about that, won't be? 

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